Premises liability accidents refer to a wide range of injuries, often caused by dangerous situations that the victim did not expect. These accidents can happen in any setting, including stores, restaurants, amusement parks, apartment buildings, or government offices.
Property owners in Pennsylvania are required to take common-sense precautions for the safety of anyone that visits their premises legally and to be proactive when there’s an obvious danger. That means they are often responsible when their carelessness creates conditions that harm someone.
Premises liability accidents can lead to devastating consequences for victims and their families, including physical pain, crippling medical debt, lost wages, and long-term health complications.
What Are the Types of Premises Liability Accidents?
Under Pennsylvania’s premises liability laws, property owners must make a reasonable effort to keep their indoor and outdoor spaces safe. That responsibility includes repairing dangerous situations and warning visitors about potential hazards on the premises. These laws exist because every property requires ongoing maintenance to avoid a wide range of preventable injuries. Some examples of premises liability accidents include:
Slip and Fall Accidents
Slip and fall accidents are one of the most common types of premises liability accidents because most walking surfaces can become unstable or hazardous under certain conditions. A sudden, hard fall can happen because of avoidable risks like broken handrails, wet or oily floors, raised carpeting, or an accumulation of snow and ice on the sidewalk. Slip and fall accidents can lead to devastating injuries like torn ligaments, spinal cord injuries, a broken hip, and even brain damage.
Dog owners in Pennsylvania must take reasonable steps to prevent their dogs from harming others, using measures like having a proper fence, keeping the dog leashed, and being proactive when it shows aggressive behavior. Pennsylvania observes strict liability for dog bites, which means owners are responsible for any unprovoked attack that causes injuries, even if it's the dog's first biting incident.
What happens if the dog’s owner is a tenant of someone else’s property? In that scenario, the property owner could share liability if they knowingly allowed a dog with aggressive tendencies to live on the property.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide leaks can happen with older gas-burning appliances, especially if they didn't receive regular maintenance or technicians installed them incorrectly. Carbon monoxide is an extremely dangerous gas with no detectable color or smell, making it likely for unsuspecting victims to suffer a life-threatening dose of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Property owners can be liable for injuries from a carbon monoxide accident if they contributed to it, such as not having an adequate number of functioning carbon monoxide detectors or if their gas-burning appliances weren’t compliant with safety codes.
Property owners are responsible for preventing violent crime on their premises and can be liable for avoidable incidents. This responsibility is especially true for businesses with high foot traffic, such as supermarkets, shopping malls, and large apartment buildings, because they require more security measures to keep visitors safe.
Properties with heavy foot traffic require trained security guards, a surveillance system, secure access for all doors, and adequate lighting for parking lots. Victims of a violent crime due to lax security could file a premises liability claim to pursue compensation for their damages.
Having proper fire safety measures and complying with Pennsylvania’s fire code is a basic property owner obligation. Being in a fire is a terrifying experience that can cause horrific injuries and lead to tragic deaths.
After a fire, property owners can be liable for a wide range of preventable hazards, such as faulty wiring that causes an electrical fire, flammable construction materials, overloaded outlets, illegal open fires, or poorly maintained appliances. They can also be responsible for fire code violations that made it harder for victims to escape the fire, such as not having enough working smoke detectors, lack of a sprinkler system, or blocked emergency exits.
Swimming Pool Accidents
Having a swimming pool on your property isn’t all about summertime fun. Pools carry a legal responsibility to avoid pool-related injuries, especially accidental drowning. Property owners can also be liable for not maintaining the pool’s infrastructure, like ladders and diving boards.
While the liability burden for owning a pool is higher for businesses like hotels, private homeowners are also responsible for avoiding pool accidents. For example, homeowners can be responsible if they don’t have a proper fence restricting access to their pool and a child manages to wander in and drowns.
Who Can I Hold Responsible for My Premises Liability Accident?
A preventable accident can happen almost anywhere. Victim injuries while home in a rented apartment, shopping at a department store, or walking down a poorly-maintained public sidewalk.
Under Pennsylvania’s premises liability laws, the person or entity responsible for maintaining the space is considered liable for the injuries and resulting damages of a premises liability accident. The property is usually liable, but there are also cases where another caretaker is responsible. Here are some common examples of who might owe compensation after a premises liability accident.
Rental properties in Pennsylvania are subject to a set of requirements called “the implied standard of habitability.” Under these guidelines, tenants have the legal right to be reasonably safe from preventable hazards. The landlord must be proactive about mitigating obvious health or safety risks. Premises liability accidents in a residential home can include slip and fall injuries due to rotten wooden steps, toxic mold exposure from a long-term leak, or violent crime due to a faulty door lock.
Many premises liability accidents will happen in a place of business that leases the property from someone else. In this scenario, the commercial tenant operating on the premises can be legally responsible for injuries resulting from their negligence.
An exception might apply if the accident happened because of large-scale structural problems or if it occurred in an area controlled by the property owner. For example, you might hold the property owner responsible for a slip and fall accident in the parking lot.
Homeowners can be responsible for preventable injuries in and around their property, including the front sidewalk. For example, they can be liable for not clearing accumulated snow and ice for an unreasonable time after a storm. If these hazardous conditions cause injuries to a pedestrian or a delivery driver, the victim can potentially sue for compensation for their damages.
State or Local Governments
Many premises liability accidents happen on properties owned by a municipality, such as a public park or government building. While there are some differences when pursuing compensation from a government entity in Pennsylvania, cities and towns have the same legal responsibility to mitigate potential risks on their property. That means victims still have the right to pursue compensation for the damages after an accident on government property.
Buildings under construction or renovation present severe risks for unsuspecting pedestrians. Premises liability accidents on a building site include falling materials that hit someone walking below or construction debris that isn’t cleaned up properly and becomes a tripping hazard. In the case of a poorly managed construction site, the company responsible for the project can be legally responsible for the resulting damages.
Why Premises Liability Cases Are Hard to Win
Liability depends on whether the owner maintained their property up to reasonable standards and took the necessary steps to prevent injuries. It's not enough for the victim to show that the accident happened or that the property hazard caused severe injuries. There must also be an element of property owner negligence that created hazardous conditions leading to a preventable accident. Winning a premises liability claim requires establishing three crucial elements to prove liability.
The property owner owed the victim a “duty of care”:
While Pennsylvania property owners have a legal responsibility to keep visitors on their property safe, this duty only extends to anyone with permission to be on the property.
Trespassers don't have legal protections for injuries on another's property, except in certain situations where the trespasser is a minor—establishing this first element requires showing that the victim was on the property legally, like a tenant, customer, guest, or pedestrian.
You must also show the accident didn’t happen where you weren’t supposed to enter, such as the employees-only warehouse of a large store.
The property owner violated this duty of care
Property owners can’t prevent every possible danger on their premises. But they must take common-sense steps to fix an obvious threat with predictable consequences. The legal threshold for negligence centers on not taking reasonable care with a hazardous situation that any normal person would consider a safety risk. Property owners can be negligent by not keeping their premises in compliance with the fire code, not hiring enough security guards for a large commercial space, or not fixing a hole in the fence that allows their aggressive dog to escape.
The at-fault party’s negligence was the direct cause of the victim’s injuries and damages
In a premises liability case, property owners commonly blame the victim for the circumstances that caused their injuries. For example, victims of a slip and fall accident might have worn improper shoes for their walking conditions or not avoided an obvious hazard.
An experienced premises liability attorney can show evidence that the property owner’s negligence was the direct cause of the accident, not the victim’s actions. A successful premises liability claim demonstrates the specific damages that resulted from getting hurt, such as medical expenses, lost income, and the quality of life costs of suffering a serious injury.
How a Premises Liability Attorney Can Help You
Premises liability accidents are potentially life-changing events with severe consequences for victims and their families. Victims often deal with astronomical medical bills, lost wages from being unable to work, and major disruptions to their normal routine. Recovering fair compensation is essential for getting life back on track, but many victims of property owner negligence find it an uphill battle.
Property owners and their insurance companies often use aggressive tactics to either deny liability altogether or try to pay as little compensation as possible. A skilled premises liability lawyer can build a strong case, substantiating the circumstances of the accident, and proving the property owner’s negligence.
Some of the ways a premises liability attorney can help victims win compensation include:
- Investigate the case using resources like photos or videos from the scene of the accident, witness statements, maintenance records, correspondence with the property owner, and expert testimony.
- Substantiate the victim’s damages using hospital bills, medical assessments that show projected costs for future treatment, employment records showing lost income, and journal entries detailing the emotional costs of the ordeal.
- Handle all communications with the insurance company and negotiate to reach a reasonable settlement that covers the victim’s damages.
- If necessary, argue the victim’s premises liability case before a judge to fight for a fair judgment.
If a premises liability accident due to property owner negligence injured you, you deserve fair compensation for your damages. Winning your claim will require a hardworking premises liability lawyer with the skills and resources to help you prepare an effective case and protect your legal rights.